Cute Mage's Tower

My Puzzles Are So Gay

Okay, my puzzles are actually queer, trans, and sapphic, but that’s not as snappy of a title for a blog post.

The Voice of the Soul

Two blog posts ago, I talked about the Art Behind Puzzling, and one of the things I mentioned was that the difference between a computer generated puzzle and a puzzle written by a human is that the human’s puzzle has soul. My puzzles are going to be different from other people’s puzzles because I am different from other people. I have my own voice with which I use to inject my puzzles with soul, to supercharge them with meaning.

So what does my voice sound like?

Well, at times it’s explicitly queer, and that’s central to the puzzle. I brought up Transformations in the Art post, but I’d also like to bring up Puzzled Half-Gallon, from my Liquid Measures Puzzled Pint set. It’s a traditional einstein-style logic puzzle with a set of couples seated around a table, but with no explicit heteronormativity. If you assume it, you will run into a contradiction somewhere. When the set of puzzles was released, I received many comments about people’s reaction to that puzzle, whether it was people fooled by the premise, people wondering why I would write that puzzle before realizing what was going on, or people who saw the puzzle and went “Cute Mage wrote this, there’s no way everyone’s straight.”

Other times, it’s less explicitly queer, and that’s tangential to the puzzle. I brought up GROWAPAIR in the Art post, but also I would like to highlight a number of other small references in other puzzles I’ve written. Word Search of Babel included both Animorphs and the “Help I’m Trapped in…” series, both of which were fundamental to me as an egg. Frankenstein’s Music uses a resource created by a trans woman. These small queer references add some nice spice to the puzzle.

In other ways, the queerness comes in the story around the puzzle itself. The main character in the Liquid Measures Puzzled Pint set is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. So does one of the characters in It’s Puzzles All the Way Down. The Let’s Play that Goes Wrong included an explicitly gay couple. Every character I played in the 2022 Mystery Hunt was explicitly trans, and the one in The MIT Mlystery Hunt… explicitly mentioned her estrogen prescription. The queerness is everywhere.

Of course, my voice is not defined solely by queerness. It also has puzzles that look really hard but have lots of interior structure that makes them easier to solve the more you learn. It has puzzles with a sense of humor. It has puzzles that interact weirdly with other puzzles. It has puzzles about my niche hobbies and interests. It has a certain kind of weirdness that my friends have dubbed as “Jenanigans”. But queerness is a core part of my identity and therefore a core part of my voice.

To Be Clear: We’re Here, We’re Queer.

When I was interacting with teams while helping to run the 2022 MIT Mystery Hunt, I had no less than 3 separate teams introduce themselves as the “queer team”. Puzzle hunting is an activity with a lot of queer people. Why is that? I don’t know, but I have some guesses.

Hunt-style puzzles require to ask why. Why did the puzzle author present the data in this way? Why are these two seemingly unrelated topics in the same puzzle? Why is the data in this order? Why does this puzzle break a traditional rule? In order to solve a hunt-style puzzle, we have to stop and think about the underlying assumptions. It’s not hard to go from there to underlying assumptions about gender and sexuality.

But also, and probably the more important reason, puzzle hunting is done as a team. There are rare instances of puzzle hunts designed to be solved solo, but most of the time puzzle hunts are designed to be solved by a team of anywhere from 4 people to 100 (depending on the hunt). You spend a lot of intimate time with your team, whether in person or online. You get to know them, and become friends with them. Queer people end up finding each other, even if they don’t know they’re queer yet. It makes sense that there’s teams full of them.

This means something very important. If you’re running a puzzle event, you need to make sure that it’s a safe space for queer people. There are plenty of us who you can ask about this, but a strong Code of Conduct is a great starting point. Also, if you don’t like queer people, get out of our hobby. We don’t want you here.

Wrapping Up

Being queer is a whole mindset. It’s not just about who I love or how I feel, but it’s about how I look out at the world. It affects my teaching, it affects my writing, it affects day to day interactions. It makes sense that it would affect my puzzles.

Before signing off, if you haven’t checked out the Puzzler Pride 2024 issue, you should check it out. It’s a great set of puzzles created by queer authors in celebration of Pride month!